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Retiring Overseas in Paradise – What Does It REALLY Cost?

By Cat Wheeler August 02, 2017 Lifestyle

Many of us have dreams of retiring under waving palm trees after decades of working hard and looking after others. But can we afford our fantasy lifestyle?

In the United States, about 90% of all people over the age of 65 receive Social Security benefits. For many, that monthly check is at least 90 percent of their retirement income. If you retire at age 62 this year, expect a maximum benefit of $2,153, though the national average is closer to $1,400.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average monthly spending on groceries is $240 and average national rent for a one-bedroom apartment is between $900 and $1,200. So, packing up and moving to a tropical country makes sound economic sense.

Retiring Overseas in an Exotic Location

That same Social Security check could pay for a comfortable life in an exotic locale. These days, many retired North Americans are moving to tropical destinations where their dollars stretch much further.

Life in the tropics can be as casual and simple as you like. You don’t need an extensive all-weather wardrobe or lots of kitchen gadgets.

Especially for those who come from colder climes, life in the tropics offers the joyful certainty of sunshine and lush gardens. We who have stepped offshore relish our lighter footprint and outdoor lifestyle.

There are so many factors involved in deciding where to settle abroad. Proximity to one’s home country, language, security issues, food, health care and climate are all important elements.

But perhaps, the most important is whether you feel within your cultural comfort zone. If you’ve ever visited a place and felt like, “I could live here!” that would be a good place to start.

Many developing countries are now middle income, making them retirement destinations that are both affordable and beautiful. And many of these countries see the economic opportunity of welcoming this new market segment.

Expatriate retirees are being welcomed to put down roots in countries as diverse as Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Do your homework! Research as much as you can, make several visits, check local community Facebook pages, try to meet local expats who can share their experiences with you.

Accommodation when Retiring Overseas

A safe, comfortable place to live is a top priority. I’ve lived in tropical Southeast Asia for almost 30 years, and my priorities are location, security and good ventilation.

I don’t want to travel very far for groceries and daily errands, and besides, I have a lot more fun walking or cycling through my neighborhood than I would driving or taking a bus. I get to know my community and support my neighbors by patronizing their shops and restaurants.

As a single woman, I feel more secure with ornamental window grilles, good locks and a dog or two. Ventilation is important in tropical living.

Choose a place with lots of windows and high ceilings with fans to keep the air moving naturally. Personally, I hate air conditioning, and electricity is often expensive in developing countries.

A simple furnished one-bedroom apartment or cottage can be surprisingly affordable. Budget for $650 a month or less. In Mexico or north Thailand accommodation can be as low as $250.


Knowing that good, affordable medical care is nearby is very reassuring. Health care is good in many Central and South American countries, but in parts of Southeast Asia you’ll need private medical insurance with evacuation coverage.

Residential Visa

Every country has different visa requirements for long term visitors. Retirement in some countries, like Costa Rica for instance, does not require a visa at all if you’re Canadian or American.

Others, like Indonesia, have complex and expensive requirements. Again, do your homework.

Overseas Lifestyle

Expat communities are often vibrant and enjoyable. People who choose to live in the tropical developing world are usually adventurous and interesting.

There’s usually a lot going on. Communities like this can be close and supportive in times of trouble. Home help is often an affordable luxury and provides employment for local women.

What About Food?

Choose to move to a place where you like the local cuisine; eating what the locals eat is a great way to keep costs down.

Cooking at home is always cheaper than dining out, so if you like to cook invest in a good kitchen. Ovens are rare in Asia where two or three burner countertop gas rings are the norm.

Is it Necessary to Learn the Language?

Language classes are a great investment! Learning at least a little of the local language opens so many doors. Even if you never become fluent, you win a tremendous amount of good will by trying.

I moved from Canada to Singapore in 1990, and to Bali in 2000 – the best decisions I ever made. I’m living exactly the life I want. My book “Retired, Rewired” shares some of the stories and adventures of growing older in Ubud, Bali.

Have you ever considered retiring overseas in an exotic location? Which tropical location might you choose to start a new life? Please share your thoughts below!

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The Author

Canadian writer Cat Wheeler has been living in Southeast Asia since 1990. In 2000, she moved from clean, predictable Singapore to the colorful chaos of Bali, Indonesia. Part of a vibrant 60+ expat community, she writes popular books about life in Bali off the tourist trail:

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