Why this tiny country is still the winner of “Best Place to Retire”
Good weather. Strong economy. Excellent health.
Oh, and special perks and savings if you’re 55 (for women) and 60 (for men).
That’s why Panama has once again topped the list of best places in the world to retire from InternationalLiving.com, now in its 31st edition. The 2022 list places the Central American country at the top for the 11th time.
Aimed at North American expats, the annual rankings are compiled through a network of field editors and global correspondents, who use their own experiences and a range of statistics to compile the list. Cost of living, housing, health care, retiree benefits and climate are all considered. These stats are then used to profile 25 “safe, value-for-money destinations beyond the US or Canada,” with a focus on where a retired couple can live. a comfortable life on as little as $2,000 a month.
And yes, the ongoing pandemic has changed the list a bit, but also changed the perception of retirement. “Three million baby boomers retired at the start of the pandemic,” notes Jennifer Stevens, editor of International Living. “Some of them have enough to retire comfortably and have therefore taken this early retirement voluntarily. But others were not ready to stop working so soon and are now worried about holding their nest egg. [Plus] millions more people lost their jobs or were laid off. And then you introduce the “Great Resignation” into the mix. The result is that people – in large numbers – find themselves at a crossroads.
A closer look at this year’s roster:
Panama came first. “[It] offers you a first-world modern environment with all the comforts of home,” as the post writes. A few other benefits you may not be aware of besides climate and security: no tax on income earned abroad, low property taxes, and a retirement program (even for foreigners, and beginning at age 55 for women and age 60 for men) which provides generous benefits on travel, meals and health care. It also finished above 80 points (out of 100) in the 10 categories used by International Living to help create its annual list – the only country to do so. Plus, you don’t have to wait for retirement; invest more than $200,000 in real estate and you will automatically get a “Friendly Nations” visa.
Winner of last year Costa Rica slipped to second place, but topped the healthcare rankings. The country leads the world in life expectancy and the national health system (“la Caja”) is considered one of the 20 best in the world. Plus, there are several other private options that are significantly cheaper than in the US (even just paying out of pocket is only a fifth of the cost in the US).
Top regional picks? This is obviously Panama for Latin America, while Thailand at the top of the list for Asia and Portugal for Europe.
If one category is more important to you than another, you might want to consider Vietnam (cost of living), Portugal (climate) or Mexico (ease of integration for North American expatriates). Mexico and Panama were also highlighted for places to invest.
That said, you may want to avoid Vietnam unless you meet some recently and suddenly revised residency criteria. “In May 2021, the government suddenly announced that people who had business visas but did not have verifiable Vietnamese business sponsors should leave the country immediately,” as International Living notes. “As a result, tens of thousands of long-term retirees and others living in Vietnam who did not work directly for Vietnamese employers suddenly found themselves under threat of deportation.”
You are not part of the list, but you are in vogue? Greece, the Czech Republic, Albania and especially, El Salvador (“Less than three hours from the United States, with unspoiled landscapes, a tropical climate and very low costs.”)
Finally, how about staying in the United States? Definitely a possibility, but you don’t get what you pay for. As the magazine asks: “Is it possible to live in the United States on a budget of, say, $24,000 a year?” Yes, it is simply possible. But you won’t live close to the beach. You won’t have money to eat out two or three times a week. You won’t have any more money to travel. You might have a roof over your head and something to eat. But you will live a fairly bare-bones lifestyle.
That’s really not how we want to retire.
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