The World’s Top Retirement Havens in 2007

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The World’s Top Retirement Havens in 2007

By Laura Sheridan

Whether your retirement is fast approaching or just something you find yourself often dreaming about, you’ve probably imagined spending it in some far-flung tropical haven. But moving to a country that you know little about is a lot of hassle, right? It’s probably not worth the time and effort, you think. Besides, all your family and friends are here.

Take it from us: it’s worth it. If you look beyond your own shores you’ll find that many countries around the world offer far greater benefits and advantages for retirees than those offered at home.

One of the simplest ways to improve your retirement lifestyle is to choose the retirement destination offering you more of what you want at the best price. It’s a question of priorities. What’s important to you? Is cost of living Number One on your priority list?

Maybe for you weather is the key consideration.

Are your must-haves telecommunications and infrastructure? Proximity to the States and Canada may also be a factor.

Maybe you aren’t anywhere close to retirement. Nevertheless, it’s important to think about and plan for your future. Like every phase in your life, you’ll be surprised how fast retirement creeps up on you.

That’s why, once a year, in our Global Retirement Index, we look closely, specifically, at the best opportunities worldwide for retirement living. Where will the pensioner’s dollars go furthest? Which country is the safest? Where is the health care best? We give top priority to those things that matter most to anyone planning for retirement, including programs of special benefits for retirees (tax breaks, discounts, and freebies, for example, that various governments proffer to residents, sometimes specifically to foreign residents in an effort to attract investment and retirement dollars).

We can show you the opportunities and possibilities, the winners of our top retirement countries, but it’s up to you to decide what your main priorities are before you find your ideal retirement haven. The aim of our Index is to give you a good starting guide.

Mexico-our new winner

Moving up four places to take our top spot as the world’s top retirement haven this year is Mexico. Mexico offers the perfect mix of centuries-old traditions and contemporary lifestyles. Moving to Mexico means you can still have all of the amenities you grew accustomed to north of the border: cable TV, high-speed Internet, and modern home appliances. And if you prefer, when you move to Mexico you can even bring all of your favorite things with you without paying import taxes.

Goods and services cost less, so you can afford the kinds of luxuries only the very wealthy enjoy up north: a maid, a cook, and a gardener for example. In your retirement here, you’ll have time to volunteer at the local school, time to golf in the mornings, time to relax on the beach…time to savor life.

Whether your vision of the ideal retirement involves shopping, fishing, sunbathing, diving, biking, mountain climbing, parasailing, collecting crafts, visiting archeological sites, partying, going to concerts, attending the theater, or fine dining, in Mexico you can engage in all of these activities, and many more.

How our Global Retirement Index is scored

* Real estate. Countries where real estate prices are low and the purchase of real estate is relatively easy receive the highest scores. We use our own experiences plus reports from our contributing editors and real estate contacts around the world to rate each country. Weight: 15%

* Entertainment, Recreation, and Culture. This category considers the number of newspapers per 1,000 citizens, the number of museums and cinemas per capita, the number of university students, the literacy rate, and the variety of cultural and recreational offerings. Weight: 10%

* Cost of living. This score is based on statistics from the Indexes of Living Costs Abroad, Quarter Allowances, and Hardship Differentials, published by the United States Department of State, and on data published by Business International. We also use our firsthand experiences living and traveling in these countries. The lower the score, the higher the cost of living. Weight: 20%

* Safety and stability. This measure of unrest in each country is based primarily on Interpol data and State Department statistics. It also takes into account the civil liberties and political rights granted by each government. Our own experiences and reports from expatriates living in these countries also influence the safety scores. Weight: 5%

* Health care. Considered in this category are the cost of a typical visit to a general practitioner and the cost and coverage particulars of health insurance. Weight: 20%

* Climate. Countries with temperate weather throughout the year, moderate rain fall, and little risk of natural disaster come out on top in this category. We use data representing each country as a whole instead of favoring one region over another. Weight: 5%

* Special benefits. This category considers government provisions that make moving to and living in each country easier and more affordable for foreigners. Taken into account are property rights for foreign residents, property tax rates, duty-free imports on personal belongings, currency controls, employment restrictions, voting rights, and transportation discounts for seniors. Weight: 20%

* Infrastructure. This section considers the number of cars and telephones per 1,000 residents, the length of railroad track in usable condition, the number of airports, the quality of the country’s road and highway network, and the availability of telecommunications. Weight: 5%

If health care is a concern, you should know that in much of Mexico the health care is first rate. Private clinics and hospitals are staffed by expert physicians (many of whom trained in the U.S., Europe, or in Mexico’s own world-renowned teaching hospitals), and medical care and prescription drugs will cost you only a fraction of what you would pay in the States. In our Index, Mexico scores 79 out of a possible 100 points in this category.

Mexico is such a diverse nation that everybody can find exactly what they want. You don’t have to choose between water or mountains; here you can have both. And because of geographic diversity, you can also choose the climate to enjoy during your Mexican retirement: from hot and dry in the north, to hot and humid in the south, to spring-like temperatures all year round in the Colonial Highlands.

You can also own the home of your dreams in Mexico-for much less than it would cost you most anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. The real estate market offers endless possibilities for your retirement. Mexico receives a high score of 84 in our Real Estate category. Despite what you may have heard, it’s not too late to buy real estate here.

You can own beachfront-not just ocean view property-in Mexico for less than $100,000.

Once you decide to move to Mexico, it’s difficult to know where to go-it’s a big country. Below are the 10 places we think make the most sense for expatriate living in this country, based on criteria such as health care, climate, infrastructure, and housing costs. These are places our husband-and-wife team in Mexico, Dan Prescher and Suzan Haskins, have personally scouted and personally recommend above other options in this great big country. They are: Rosarito Beach, Puerto Vallarta, Quer?ro, Mazatlan, M?da, La Paz, Campeche, Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya, Ajijic/Chapala, and Sayulita/San Pancho (San Francisco). Of course, we’re not forgetting San Miguel de Allende, one of Dan and Suzan’s favorite places in Mexico. Suzan recently reported of this town: “San Miguel is one of the prettiest towns in all of Mexico. Stepping into San Miguel’s Centro is like stepping back in time…but with all of today’s modern conveniences.”

In second place…

Ecuador

Ecuador always does well in our Retirement Index, but this year it moves from 10th position last year to take second place this year. If you retire in Ecuador, every clich?ou’ve heard about living large on little money-about settling into the lap of luxury on even a pensioner’s budget-is true. Ecuador gets 85 points in our Cost of Living category, making it one of the world’s cheapest places to live. Take $250 out of the ATM Monday morning and your expenses are covered for the week. In fact, we ranked Ecuador as the world’s best retirement haven in 1999, after it weathered the earlier economic, political, and natural problems of the previous two years, and went on to prosper.

Of course, low prices alone do not make for an ideal retirement or investment destination. There are plenty of places the world over where you can buy cheap land, but where you wouldn’t want to live; not so in Ecuador.

It’s hard to pinpoint the best reason for retiring to Ecuador, but one thing’s for sure: this is an affordable-and beautiful-retirement destination. Ecuador also offers a high quality of life. This is no isolated backwater. It’s a land of opportunity, where a middle class is forming. After waking from a long economic slumber, Ecuador is preparing to join the global economy.

Retirees aged 65 or older have an extra incentive to consider Ecuador: airfares to North America and Europe are half-price on several airlines; all in-country transportation costs are 50% lower, and big discounts apply to a variety of other expenses such as taxes, utilities, and entertainment.

And remember: Ecuador is one place where the U.S. dollar is not losing value, which makes an Ecuadorian retirement especially appealing. Following the late-1990s’ debt default, Ecuador decided to adopt the U.S. dollar as its official currency, which eliminates currency risk. Inflation is less than 3% and most economic indicators are positive.

Top for Europe

Italy comes third in our Index this year with high scores across the board. It’s difficult to figure out whereabouts in Italy you picture yourself living-there is probably more beauty per square mile here than in any other corner of Europe. It’s no simple matter to hit on the ideal location, even if you know for sure that you prefer big city life to the tranquility of the countryside. Right now, International Living recommends two places: Umbria in central Italy, and Calabria-situated in the toe of Italy.

“The green heart of Italy,” Umbria is just as alluring as its more famous next-door neighbor, Tuscany. With expats seeking farmhouses and other rural properties, prices are catching up fast. Although Umbria doesn’t possess a coastline, everywhere you look you’ll see rumpled hills crowned with fortified towns and higgledly-piggledly villages. From certain vantage points, you can see several hill towns at a time.

Many parts of the province are within an hour’s drive of Florence or Siena. Towns like Assisi, Todi, Spoleto, Orvieto, and Norcia are every bit as beautiful and as historic as any small town in Tuscany.

To give you an idea of property prices in the region, in Monteleone d’Orvieto, there’s a 968-square-foot apartment in need of restoration. Selling for $85,000, it has two bedrooms and one bathroom, plus a ready-made vegetable garden. There’s another apartment in the same town that’s habitable: 807 square feet, two bedrooms, and one bathroom. Price: $100,000.

Calabria’s shores are lapped by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west, and the Ionian Sea on the east. What about property prices here? In the Calabrian seaside town of Scalea, an attractive second-floor apartment of 430 square feet is selling for $50,000.

Why Panama fell from glory?

Panama won our Retirement Index for six years in a row. But, it’s fallen from the top spot in 2007 and is now in fourth place. Why? Panama still has the same great retiree benefits…this hasn’t changed since last year (see the sidebar on retiree benefits on page XX). Still, unless you have a verifiable pension or pockets deep enough to afford a $40,000 investment in a forestry project or a $200,000 investment in real estate or a government bank CD, it can be difficult to get a resident visa in Panama. Since the government of Panama recently put a 30-day limit on its tourist visa, it has become more difficult for anyone seeking to rent a home or apartment and stay in the country for any length of time.

And it’s true that this country’s popularity has driven up real estate prices. Once plentiful real estate bargains-from $100,000 apartments in Panama City to $40,000 lots in Boquete-are getting harder to find.

Panama still has much to offer, though. Whether you’re enticed by the friendly people or the tropical climate, Panama is a great retirement destination (remember, it’s still in our top 5).

We don’t have print space here to talk about every country in our Index, but you can access information on all countries featured here at our website. In the search engine, type in the name of the country of interest to you to find out more.

NEED TO KNOW

Countries with special retiree benefits

Mexico

If you’ve considered retiring to Mexico, you now have another good reason-foreigners who hold a valid residence visa for Mexico can now take part in Mexico’s senior citizens’ benefits program.

The program, for adults aged 60 and over, offers discounts on a wide range of services. These include discounts on health-related services (hospitals, doctors’ visits, lab tests, medical devices, pharmacies, and dental work); cultural activities like theater tickets and entrance fees to museums and archaeological sites; travel-related costs, including airline tickets, buses, car rentals and purchase, and hotel accommodation. Discounts can range up to 50% off the full price of the good or service. Non-Mexicans who wish to take part in the program must go to a local office of INAPAM (Instituto Nacional de las Personas Adultas Mayores) to request a membership card. See: http://www.inapam.gob.mx/DirecINAPAM07.pdf for more information (in Spanish).

Malaysia

Three years ago, the government of Malaysia launched “Malaysia-My Second Home” (MM2H), replacing the former “Silver Hair” program introduced in 1987. MM2H provides incentives for foreigners, particularly retirees, to live permanently in this country. Successful applicants initially receive what is, in effect, a five-year visa with unlimited entry/exit privileges. There is no minimum annual residence requirement. After the first five years, you can apply for permanent residency. While you’re not guaranteed it will be granted, you can expect automatic renewal of your original visa if you continue to meet its conditions. Within six months of approval, MM2H residents may bring in household effects duty-free, and import or purchase one vehicle locally, tax free. Savings on auto taxes can amount to thousands of dollars on expensive models. Other benefits include exemption from Malaysian income tax on pension and other income remitted into the country, plus that on the interest from any fixed deposit made under the MM2H program (a savings of about 29%).

In addition, residents may purchase up to two properties with a value of not less than $40,000 each. Banks may advance up to 60%. For information on cost of living and many other useful topics, including domestic help, see www.mm2h.com. Registration at that website will also bring you updates on MM2H.

Panama

If you can document a minimum monthly pension of $500 (plus another $100 per dependent), you are eligible for a long list of perks in Panama, including: Import duty exemption for household goods; tax exemption to import a new car every two years; 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, theaters, concerts, sporting events); 30% off in-country bus, boat, and train fares; 25% off in-country airline tickets; 50% off hotel stays Monday through Thursday; 15% off hospital bills (if no insurance applies); 10% off prescription medicines; 20% off medical consultations; 50% reduction in closing costs for home loans; 25% discounts on utility bills…and many more.

Ireland

If Ireland is your choice as a retirement haven, you can take advantage of the many retirement incentives this country has to offer, including free health care, free public transportation, a fuel allowance, and significant discounts on hotel and electricity bills. You’re even allowed to vote in local elections.

Belize

Expats can apply for status as a Qualified Retired Person (QRP), and, with that status, you can avoid Belizean income tax and also import your household goods tax-free up to a total exemption amount of $15,000. You can also bring in a vehicle (a car, light aircraft, or boat) tax-free. In fact, every five years you can import a new vehicle, tax-free.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Jesus Ruiz Says:

    Hiya. I skimmed across your website by an accident and was happy that I did. My mother and some others have begun a significant amount of online research about apartments in Italy and where to stay and other important stuff. Finally, thanks for the info – excited I found it by mistake and will keep in mind. With research I started organizing information about Tuscany apartments in my blog.

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