How to Pick the Best Place to Live in Retirement
Heaven on Earth? I can't really speak for everyone, but for myself, I would describe Heaven on Earth as warm, sunny, friendly, pristine, affordable, green, and peace-filled. In my dream of dreams, this is where my husband and I would live out our retirement years. And, in more practical terms, there would be a good health care system if we got sick and a large enough English-speaking community to feel like we were not too far from that other place we called "home".
Paradise but with ModCons
But being a pretty spoiled and privileged North American (West Coast Canuck) I would expect more than rustic pleasures of white sand and blue surf and tiki hut. I would want a piece of property where I could have delightful flower gardens, koi pools, and just a modest, easy-to-care-for rancher with a couple of pristine modern bathrooms and a great view of the ocean and probably a good generator system to run the computer, the lights, and my well set-up kitchen whenever there are brownouts or blackouts or other sorts of power failures.
I understand from my friends who have actually moved to tropical paradises that there is generally a wonderful selection of domestic employees available at modest wages. My brother, in fact, stayed in a home on the ocean in Nicaragua where there was a resident chef! That sounds pretty attractive, but in my case I would want to re-train them to cook the way we are used to eating in our golden years: organic, vegan, about 70% raw. I have my own Vitamix, so we might just dispense with the in-house chef. It would be great, however, to have some help with housework and gardening. And, I guess if we get ill in our decrepitude we might appreciate someone to look after us. We have no plan to get to that stage, but you know, just sayin'.
Isla Cozumel, Mexico
That Tropical Island Retirement Haven...
Mexico tops the most desirable places to retire to according the Forbes' International Living Top 10 list (2017). If you truly dream of living on an Island in the Tropics, the Mexican version of that could be Cozumel off the East Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, a pretty direct ferry trip from the popular tourist city of Playa del Carmen. Cozumel has 90,000 inhabitants, and some of the best beaches and snorkeling in the world.
Panama and Ecuador were just a hair's breadth from joining Mexico in first place. Interesting Islands belonging to these countries include: Panama's Isla Colon in the Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago where Bocas town has an established population of expats. Colon is a verdant (jungle) island. The rents for apartments in Bocas seem entirely affordable for anyone wanting to check out the Island over the period of a Northern Winter (in the $400 Canadian range for a 1-bedroom, comfortable place with all the mod cons). Stores in Bocas are reportedly well-stocked with familiar American food, not that that is what attracts everyone in their retirement!
Ecuador has the famous Galapagos Islands-- not that you would want to --or would be allowed to-- retire among the birds there. There are also an array of Islands that might appeal for residence. While researching Ecuador, I was interested to read about an expat couple living in Salinas, Ecuador (a beach community on the Caribbean Coast) who have opened a nearby upscale Assisted Living facility to expats and local residents who are dealing with unexpected health and life crises and need services like the ones they would receive in a much more expensive facility back in their home countries. If you are curious about their story, you can search Rick and Dana Racinskas and read about their Chipipe Villa, Salinas, visionary undertaking. I would suggest that along with health care, cost of living, and housing, you might like to check out what your retirement country of choice has in the way of "assisted living" facilities. While it is not pleasant to consider having a stroke or a debilitating accident when you are on foreign soil, wisdom should prevail for all of us mortals of a more vulnerable age.
One Man's Paradise is Another Man's Hell?
It is quite possible that other folks have other criteria for where they would like to live out their twilight years. The stereotypical 'tropical island paradise' might not be your idea of heaven on earth. Actually, if you want to know the truth, I understand that most warm equatorial havens have populations of reptiles (lizards, snakes, crocodiles?) to contend with. I am pretty squeamish around snakes. Even potential contact with snakes makes my skin crawl. So, I have an alternative heaven-on-earth retirement dream location: Northern Ireland.
When I prepared this original article in 2009, Ireland made that year's Forbes Top 10 for desirable places to live in retirement. At that time a couple over 65, paid no personal income tax on any income below $59,000 USD. Today, the same couple will pay 20% income tax up to a personal combined income of around $65,000 USD, and 40% on income earned above that. While the cost of housing is pretty steep, it is actually not much different from the cost of housing on Vancouver Island where I live. While Canada does have a high cost of living compared to some other countries, it is unlikely we would move anywhere that did not offer us a substantial saving over what we now spend on housing, food and health care (I am married to an accountant). But it is possible that others out there might want to weigh up the pros and cons of moving to live in Europe, Australia or Dubai over the thriftier countries listed on the International Living's roster.
Is there a PERFECT PLACE TO RETIRE TO?
There is no such thing as a perfect place to retire. Even though people who travel to Australia often return home with a yen to go live there, it is so far away, what about precious family get-togethers? If you're American, Canada might look appealing for retirement, but our notoriously harsh winters are a bit of turn-off if you already live somewhere like Florida. The south of Italy has a lot to recommend it-- a great quality of life and even decent medical care-- but its tax system and general bureaucracy are something to consider before selling out to move there. Depending if you are a sun-worshipper or a cultural aficianado or just someone who wants to get away and try a different life somewhere, it is very important to do your homework.
Health Care in Paradise?
Health care is one of the chief concerns of an aging population. It stands to reason that you will not want to move somewhere-- no matter how many sunny days they experience in a year-- if they do not have decent, efficient, accessible health care resources. In the video above, T.R. Reid, author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care talks about his journey to different world countries seeking help with an old war injury, and what he learned-- good, better, and not so good-- about those international systems. Reid referred to ayurveda treatments in India where thrice-daily massages with warm herbal-infused oils gave him as much comfort and ease of movement as high-tech and conventional "western" methods (he also added that such alternative and complementary treatments are fully covered by the Japanese system). Consideration of where you want to move as a retiree will be based on your own perception of what "good health care" entails. If you are already 'taking charge' of your own health using an 'holistic' overview -- including a high/all plant-based diet, exercise, stress-relief, adequate rest, harmonious relationships, pleasurable creative outlets, inner peace, a strongly-held set of positive personal spiritual beliefs-- you will likely be more comfortable living out your retirement in a country that is more 'alternative' in its approach to health services. Take a good look at what is out there and how it fits for you.
It is fair to note that a month-long trip for a medical procedure where you are treated like royalty, and then return home, might be somewhat different from actually living in that country fulltime and being in contact with the country's natives who could never afford the procedure you had.
Taxes in Paradise
So, what is the scoop on taxes?
- This is an area you will have to studiously research before selling up and moving to the country that looks like the one you want to hang up your hat in. If you have a retirement planner friend or family member, you might want to buttonhole them at a family function and get their input. Same goes for ex-pat friends who are living abroad, or who have done so in the recent past. What words of wisdom do they have to impart?
- Subscribe to your country's online Revenue information services. In Canada that would be through the Canada Revenue Agency's electronic mailing list. This will provide you with information about current international taxation policy and law, and provide you with important TAX ALERTS that could mean the difference between losing everything you have and living the life in Paradise that you envisioned for yourself. In the USA, sign up for 'tax alerts' with your IRS government site.
- After you have spoken to any "expert friends" (or friends of friends you meet at a party) do a thorough investigation online. A couple of excellent points of departure are Escape Artist.com (for Americans) and Canucks Abroad.com (for Canadians).
- Take all your accrued information from the informal in-the-flesh consultations and the Internet, and write out any pressing questions you have (or questions you want confirmations about). Make appointments with both a financial advisor with cross-border expertise and tax and/or legal expert with international expertise. Find these expert consultants through a trusted referral source. Your thorough personal research and trustworthy professional taxation and legal services will save you heartache and money.
Living and Working in Retirement Heaven
What if you are looking for a way to live and work in Paradise? Lots of us retire relatively early in our lives with the goal to travel. A few trips and we find that we really are itching to get back into some sort of 'meaningful' work. OR (and this is pretty common) we recognize that we need a little augmentation to our pension, maybe just enough to pay for a few extra side trips or the odd meal out or our granddaughter's trip to visit us...
It's a joy to know that there are places in the world where our 'labours' and the skills honed over a lifetime are still needed and appreciated. Sometimes in our own home countries we are made to feel redundant, on many levels, and sent out to pasture. If you are interested in working abroad as a retiree, here are a couple of popular opportunities for you to check out:
There are plenty of jobs and volunteer opportunities for "native" English-speakers. The Internet is rife with offerings. For the truly "good" ESL jobs it is usually suggested that you have training, and usually, these days, ESL certification and/or a university education degree. But that said, there are still ESL volunteer experiences and opportunities to make cash. Popular destinations for paying ESL jobs include:
- Eastern Europe
- Asia, especially South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America
Some ESL teaching jobs actually include housing which can be handy if you are not 100% sure about wanting to relocate and invest in your own housing. While speaking a local language is generally not required, it can make the beginning teaching easier for both you and the students, and generally life will be easier for you (as well, at least attempting to learn the local language is a way of demonstrating respect for the culture and language of the students).
There are of course some risks involved for prospective teachers in this business: if you go to the country without having communicated with the employer in advance it might take a while to find a teaching job, while, conversely, communicating with a prospective employer from a half-a-world away is also a difficult process to trust entirely. Accredited government-run schools and networking with actual friends/acquaintances who are working there (or who worked there in the recent past) is generally the best scenario. As in other decisions for major change in your life, take the time to do the research and acquire the training you will need to make this a successful part of your retirement-abroad-experience.
Does Heaven On Earth Exist?
While perfection might not exist in terms of a country to retire to, I know that if one has a dream, and if that dream is nourished daily, that dream can come true. If you truly want to be happy in a palm-tree beach home in Costa Rica or a retirement flat in Dublin, you will find a way to make that happen. In the immortal words of T. Cochrane, "Life is a Highway" and there is no reason why there can't be just as much adventure and fun riding that highway in our retirement as in our twenties, right? Do your homework and have a blast!
The 2020 International Living's recommendations for where to live in retirement are available at time of writing as a free email report. You can go to their site and order it.
The Cruise Industry
Yes, you can get a job in the cruise industry even if you are retirement age. Imagine having the opportunity to cruise around your favourite ports of call over and over, no cost, and get paid for your skilled services. The cruise biz is one of those burgeoning industries fed by the aging boomer population. While there are certainly many more opportunities for young, fit people to do the hard-slogging jobs of hauling luggage and serving, there are also jobs like all manner of chefs, pursers, on-board marketers, experts in jewelry sales, shore excursion managers, and lots morethat are openings for enthusiastic mature 'career-changers' or persons wanting a change of venue for a trade or business they've practiced for many years.