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Looking for Overseas Retirement?

Is one of your plans for 2013 to retire somewhere your retirement income will stretch the furthest? Or are you just beginning to scout out retirement options? In any case, you might well want to check out one or more of the most highly recommended “retirement havens” around the world. And most of them can also be pretty good places to visit even if you have no idea about retirement yet.

For years, International Living, a specialized newsletter-plus-data bank devoted to expat life, has been the “go-to” source of information on overseas retirement. Among its many publications is an annual “quality of life” index, an attempt to quantify the most important factors for potential expats and combine individual scores into a composite index. Scoring is based on real-estate prices, special retirement benefits, cost of living, ease of integration, entertainment and amenities, health care, retirement infrastructure, and climate. This year’s report, covering 22 “top retirement destinations,” has just been issued.

  • The top-scoring spot, overall, is Ecuador, with top or near-top scores for real-estate prices, benefits, and climate, along with good scores for the other factors. The next top 10 locations are Panama, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Colombia, Spain, Thailand, Malta, and Portugal. The lowest scores go to Brazil, Chile, Honduras, Belize, and the Dominican Republic, although International Living considers them all to be acceptable candidates.
  • The best real-estate-price scores, after Ecuador, are Colombia, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Malta, Spain, and Chile. The most expensive of the 22 are, unsurprisingly, France, Portugal, Italy, and Honduras. Although the current economic crisis has cut European property values substantially.
  • The best cost-of-living scores are for the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Ecuador; the lower scores (more expensive) are for New Zealand, France, and Ireland.
  • Local health facilities and services scored best for Malaysia, Uruguay, and France; the lower scores are for Italy and New Zealand—both surprises.
  • Top climate scores are for Ecuador, Uruguay, Panama, and New Zealand; the lower scores are for Chile, Honduras, Belize, and the Dominican Republic. Although the full 22-country list is heavily biased to warm weather and beach destinations, Ecuador and Panama offer a range of climates, and New Zealand and Uruguay enjoy moderate climates.

International Living notes that its scores are based on a combination of hard cost data and personal reports from expats. Although presumably included in the “infrastructure” index, the report does not specifically mention the availability and cost of reliable high-speed Internet access, and lack of good Internet would be a deal-breaker for me and probably for many folks approaching retirement age.

Obviously, for many Americans, health would be the biggest roadblock to foreign retirement. Medicare does not cover medical and drug payments outside the United States, and giving up that benefit could be another deal-breaker. Sure, you’ll find plenty of places outside the United States with top-notch medical services at reasonable prices—just look at the huge medical tourism market—but you’ll still have to pay.

Ease of access back to the United States is also a big consideration. You may plan to return regularly, want to be able to return for medical necessity, or you may want to locate someplace where your family and friends can easily visit you. Obviously, Central American and Mexican locations score better for access than those in Asia, Europe, or South America.

Regardless of your age or interests, I strongly recommend an extended visit to any country you might even consider as a retirement venue before you make a final choice. If possible, stay in a rental rather than in a hotel, and stay long enough to get the feel of being a resident. In the meantime, start with a long look at the International Living scores, as well as the most recent AARP report. And if you’re really serious about it, you can’t go wrong with a subscription to International Living.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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