Want to Retire Abroad? The Number One Country Is …

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Retiring abroad is a goal for many — some because they want to experience the lifestyles offered in a new country, some because they realize their retirement nest eggs can last a bit longer in another country.

But what are the best places for retiring abroad? After all, packing up and schlepping to a new country is a commitment, and finding out you’ve uprooted your life for an international destination that ends up being less than ideal is a bleak scenario.

Luckily, International Living magazine spends a great deal of time sussing this out, and creates an index every year. They rank and score 24 countries in a 10-category index.

The categories include housing (how easy is it to buy or rent a home, and what you get for your money), benefits and discounts, visas and residency requirements, cost of living, fitting in and entertainment, healthcare, development (can you easily call home, access the internet, are the roads good, etc.), climate, governance, and opportunity.

“The Retirement Index is the most comprehensive and in-depth survey of its kind,” the magazine promised. “It’s the best way we know of to sift through the wealth of opportunity the world offers, bring some order, and help you pinpoint the best destination for you.”

“A vast amount of hard data goes into the Index. It’s a distillation of every pertinent and measurable fact our scouts and experts can lay their hands on,” it continued. “And it reflects the experience of every expat who has contributed to International Living since the publication of our first issue, 41 years ago.”

So who made this year’s list? 

The top 10 include Vietnam, France, Spain, Malaysia, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama.

At the top of the list, however, was Portugal.

Quinta da Encosta Velha, Santo Antonio Golf (click images for listings)

“From north to south, from the Atlantic west to the Spanish east, this country’s gracious people, bustling capital, brilliant sun, tantalizing beaches, and verdant valleys are more appealing than ever to a growing number of people,” wrote the magazine’s Portugal correspondent, Tricia Pimental.

A modern townhouse in the charming fishing village of Salema

Pimental said she’s lived in Portugal for more than seven years, and between the history and culture and the pleasant year-round climate, combined with the extremely affordable cost of living, it’s a perfect retirement spot.

In fact, she said that when people ask her why she made Portugal her permanent home base, several reasons jump out.

“My response is often to enumerate factors like affordable lifestyle—which includes quality professional healthcare, temperate climate, high safety rating, and excellent food and wine,” she said. “But truthfully, for me the number one reason is more ephemeral: it’s the overarching sense of well-being we experience here.”

She also said that she loves how friendly the people are in Portugal, and how locals usually “make a sincere effort to make visitors and expats feel welcome.”

Lisbon apartment with city views

And knowing Portuguese is helpful, she said, but urban areas like Porto and Lisbon, as well as the expat region of Algarve, English “works just fine.”

Portugal is also the second least expensive country in Europe. 

“My husband Keith and I find we spend about a third of what we did to live in the States,” Pimental said. “For example, a simple lunch of soup, main course, beverage, dessert, and coffee runs about $10. You can live a comfortable, although not extravagant, lifestyle for about $2,500 a month.”

Of course, some of the more urban areas or more popular expat spots, that price tag can go up a bit to about $3,000, she said, but a simple move 20 minutes away from the city center can bring the cost back down.

Curious about whether Portugal would be a good fit? “Begin your test drive in the capital,” Pimental said. “Lisbon is easy to reach, with direct flights from major cities around the world.”

But even with all that research, International Living provides a caveat.

“Although we’ve been more rigorous than ever in putting together our index, what makes a perfect retirement spot is ultimately subjective,” the magazine said. “It’s all down to you, and your gut reaction to a place.”

To see the whole index, click here.