International Living has published its yearbook Global Pension Index, which lists the best countries to retire to in 2022.
The ranking examines countries based on 10 different categories, including:
- benefits and discounts;
- visas and residency;
- cost of living;
1. Panama was ranked as the Best Country to Retire in 2022, ranking first in the Opportunity, Visa and Residence, and Benefits and Discounts categories.
“Panama’s cosmopolitan capital, Panama City, is the only truly First World city in Central America. There are direct flights to Panama from all parts of the US, as well as several cities in Canada and Europe. This modern, welcoming country is just three hours from Miami and five hours from New York. And it uses the US dollar as its currency,” said International Living.
The key differentiator, however, 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 obtain permanent legal residency and offers retirees a range of discounts — including dental care and transportation. Things like entertainment and hotel stays are also discounted.
An applicant with a pension of at least $1,000 (R15,000) per month may qualify for the pensionado program, making the barrier to entry relatively low. And once you’re approved, you’ll enjoy all the discounts, regardless of your age.
“If you want to apply with your spouse, you can qualify with less than $1,000 each. You can even bring in family members if needed,” said Jessica Ramesch, editor of International Living Panama. “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 North Americans who choose to retire here spend more than $2,000 (R30,000) a month, there are expats who live on far less.”
2. Costa Rica
As part of the post-pandemic recovery, Costa Rica has lowered its entry requirements to attract more foreigners.
“The country is now on a slow economic recovery, with initiatives like the new digital nomad visa and an updated law to provide retirees with perks like a lower threshold for investors ($150,000 or 2.2 million Rand) and the ability to a shipping container with tax-free household goods and two vehicles – without the high import costs,” said International Living.
A couple can live comfortably, but not necessarily extravagantly, in Costa Rica for around US$2,000-2,500 (R30,000-38,000) a month.
“This includes renting a two bedroom home/condo with North American amenities, air conditioning, as well as groceries, entertainment, transportation and health care. If your monthly budget is over $3,000 (R45,000), you can find a laid-back lifestyle with most of the amenities you need.”
Income requirements in Mexico are quite reasonable for the two categories that apply most commonly: monthly income of about $2,100 (R320.00) per month, or $36,000 (R550,000) in the bank for a temporary stay, or $2,700 ( R41,000 a month or $149,000 (R2.23 million) in the bank for permanent residence.
These amounts are approximate due to exchange rate fluctuations, which may vary from year to year.
The temporary stay can last up to four years at a time. At this point, you can reapply and remain a temporary resident or convert to permanent residency. You can also apply for permanent residency from the start if you meet the requirements, International Living said.
On average, a retired couple could live comfortably in Mexico for around US$2,000 (R30,000) a month, according to International Living. These include housing, transportation, healthcare, utilities, and groceries.
“Some people can get by on a lot less because they live very much like the locals, others spend a lot more – if you want luxury and high-end, Mexico certainly has it. The popularity of a place, whether it’s a large expat group or a tourist destination, can also affect prices.”
International Living estimates that a couple in Portugal can live comfortably but not wastefully on $2,500 (R3,800) a month, but entrance fees could cost you considerably more.
But it does well in other rankings, including climate, healthcare and governance, International Living said.
The Colombian property owner visa is for people buying property 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 may include a spouse, partner, minor children or someone economically dependent on you, do not need to apply for a visa. You can add them to your visa as beneficiaries.
Colombia legalized same-sex marriage in 2016, so spouses are covered as beneficiaries, International Living said.
Bond funds go much further in Colombia. A couple can live in many cities in Colombia for $2,000 (R30,000) a month or less.
Ecuador is one of the cheapest places to live on the list, and a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment can cost as little as US$500 (R7,600) a month.
There are few places where life is as cheap as in Ecuador. Remember, you can own a home on a Pacific Coast beach or a condo with great views in the Andes for around $150,000, International Living said.
Rental opportunities are plentiful and affordable too, with a two bedroom, two bathroom condo in downtown Cuenca available for $500.
France is one of the most expensive places on the list to retire – but scores best for its health and social security benefits.
“The system is available to anyone after three months of residency and has no pre-existing restrictions, age restrictions or entry fees. Rated as one of the best healthcare systems in the world, costs are incredibly low and care is modern and reliable,” said International Living.
“Fees are set by the government and cannot be increased by any individual provider – you will be asked to pay the same fee at the best teaching university in Paris as at the local village doctor.”
Malta offers a number of options for permanent residence. The fastest 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, and certain property/rental commitments.
“The cheaper option is the ‘self-sufficiency’ visa. The biggest hurdles are €50,000 (R863,000) a year income (may be part of social security), plus proof of medical insurance and a 15% annual tax payment based on the money you send into the country,” International Life 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 will not be accepted, International Living said. While this is expensive, Spain’s first-world infrastructure means it scores high on the list, it said.
“You can drink the tap water. The electricity is on 24 hours a day. Garbage is picked up every night. Super fast WiFi is available almost everywhere. Public transport is convenient, fast and cheap. Clean, comfortable bullet trains will whisk you across the country in a few hours. And you don’t need a car, except in the most remote places,” said International Living.
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 must both pass a criminal background check and demonstrate a recurring monthly source of income to support yourself in Uruguay – this is often around $1,500 (R2,600) for a single person.