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How to Pick the Best Place to Live in Retirement

Updated on October 5, 2014
Looking to live in Heaven on Earth?
Looking to live in Heaven on Earth?

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".

Peace-filled, sunny, warm. Paradise
Peace-filled, sunny, warm. Paradise | Source
modest rancher with a sea view
modest rancher with a sea view

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'.

Rowallane Garden in Northern Ireland, a National Trust Property
Rowallane Garden in Northern Ireland, a National Trust Property | Source
Canada is nice, but...
Canada is nice, but...

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.

And actually, Ireland makes the 2009 Forbes Top 10 for desirable places to live in retirement. In Ireland you pay a personal income tax of 43%, which sounds kind of terrifying, but for couples over 65, there is no personal income tax on any income below $59,000.

Along with the 2009 Forbes Top 10 Retirement Havens ratings, it is interesting to compare the Top 10 Retirement Index09 ratings by International Living Magazine for the same period (they actually have a Top 30 list).

Top Ten Countries to Retire To c. 2009

Forbes Best 10 Retirement Havens
International Living Retirement09 Top 10
1. Austria
1. Ecuador
2. Thailand
2. Mexico
3. Italy
3. Panama
4. Panama
4. Uruguay
5. Ireland
5. Italy
6. Australia
6. Brazil
7. France
7. Argentina
8. Malaysia
8. Costa Rica
9. Spain
9. Malta
10. Canada
10. Australia

There is no such thing as a perfect place to retire. Even though Australia has a very high rating, if you have kids and grandkids in Canada, say, it is a long haul between there and the 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?

The Healing of America

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care
The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care

306 customer reviews to read about this masterly journalistic work that looks at the best and worst of health care throughout the industrialized democracies of the world.

Ayurvedic "medical vacation"
Ayurvedic "medical vacation"

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?

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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 (for Americans) and Canucks (for Canadians).
  4. 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:

Teaching English

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 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.


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      mary D. 4 years ago

      This such a difficult thing to decide these days, because it seems that every week we hear about more unrest, or more flooding.. I am on Vancouver Island now, and am searching for that little place with less responsibilities, and delivery of groceries... and maybe a couple of places that deliver take out ... just changing the sheets and laundry are more difficult than before, and vacuum cleaner is lonely.. Doing dishes and preparing a few meals a week has become the routine. Does anyone want to know how a hoarder is created ? I have seen pretty places like San Diego , and realized why people lived in earthquake zones.. I wondered that for years.. It is so lovely , it is worth it... Now I want a place with a pool.. I did have one before in condo Mississauga, and even a work out room in the condo building... Now I am comfy with attached garage and auto door opener.... so what I really need is a How does one decide where is best for them ? on-going quest, and I hope we all find it soon... a great effort , Cynthia , and I do hope you enjoy your retirement home... A few years ago , a condo in Greece was popular. I wonder ???

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 4 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      I'm sorry I missed this laudable comment, Old Albion! Vancouver Island IS a most delightful place to live, you are right! It's a lovely place to be retired to. People originating in the UK really appreciate our little island, and if they have lived elsewhere in Canada until retirement, many choose to retire here. Please come and visit!

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi techygran. A really nice informative hub. I am in England, I have always wanted to visit Vancouver Island. I have always believed it to be a most delightful place. Am I right or wrong.


    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Hey Mary, you are a walking treasure trove yourself! You bring much wisdom and warmth into relationships! I think Greece is not going to do so well for real estate, et al until they get their financial situations cleared up. Sounds kind of scary from the reports I hear. Thanks for your comments!

    • profile image

      m.dicerni 5 years ago

      This sure gives you something more to think about, than just making dinner... I heard years ago a condo in Greece was the place to be.. It now seems so many more places can be an option.. Also nice to know that the weathered brain may still add some pleasure to another person. We have so much information stored, and unused, and seemingly useless to many.. Thank you for bringing these subjects to our attention.. There are many subjects we are familiar with, and willing to share.. and some crafts to boot... ...

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      wow, Leyla, I'd love to read about your personal search for the ultimate retirement haven-- if you have a hankering to write (about that and other topics), HubPages is a wonderful community in which to do that... just head over from here to sign up free and learn how to get started. Thank you so much for your comments, high praise from someone who has lived in places that I only dream about visiting!

    • profile image

      leyla 5 years ago

      thank you sooo much :) i lived in new york city, san diego, cyprus, london and istanbul..still looking for my heaven, your contributions are very enlightening..

      thank you :)

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      I agree-- even a metaphorical heaven-on-earth is no where close to what the real Heaven is-- what we know about it and the delightful surprises we haven't yet glimpsed. My Dad is very content living where he grew up, even though the weather is pretty nasty in the winter and he lives in a small seniors' apartment. He is close to caring family. That is the criteria he used. Good luck to you in deciding on your retirement home!

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 5 years ago

      Loved reading this Hub. I suppose though that the real Heaven after death is no where near what is here on Earth. (Not even close). I have considered moving away for my mid-60's - where? Canada is a short drive away,I have lived in SC and CA - visited Florida - but with all this bad weather everywhere maybe I am better off in NY. Big decision. Great research given - excellent and useful - UP.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      oh, I blush Larry! Thank you for your sweet comments (and for voting me up)!

    • Larry Okeke profile image

      Larry Okeke 5 years ago from Enugu, Nigeria

      Sweet granny! Am as young as you are old, but i definitely enjoyed this article! Voted up and awesome!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Thanks for the comments Vinaya... I just meant for the idea of "heaven on earth" to be metaphorical in this context, but actually, as a Christian, I do believe that Heaven is a real place. Hell, on the other hand, is probably, as you state, what we experience here on earth. Rather than burning forever, the devil and his followers will consumed in "the lake of fire" as is described in Revelation.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      I believe heaven and hell is an escapist's notion. Actually heaven and hell are on earth. It is up to us if we make this earth heaven or hell.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Thank you James for your kind comments!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this needful and most excellent article. That cruise ship idea holds much appeal to me. Your work putting together this Hub is exemplary.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      thanks Peggy for your comment! Yes, what would we do without our daydreams?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You have given folks who wish to move elsewhere and retire much to consider. As far as heaven on earth...not sure that any one place would qualify as such for one reason or another. I believe that we will have to wait until the next life to fully appreciate heaven. Fun to daydream, however.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 6 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      thanks for the comment Sirrot... I have an auntie and several friends who make their way down to your beautiful part of the world each year for 6 summery months while we shiver up here!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 6 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Thanks Artzgirl for the input-- you've talked me out of Southern CA-- but since I already live on the West Coast (of Canada, that is) I'm not going to rule out the entire West Coast :p

    • ArtzGirl profile image

      ArtzGirl 6 years ago from San Diego

      It would definitely NOT be Southern CA.

      I loved living in San Diego around 1996, when I first moved there. They were having a housing "correction" at that time, that made the rentals much less expensive than they are now.

      The fires are something that you really can't be prepared for. The ashes and air quality during a major fire like we had in '03 and '07 are enough to damage the lungs of children and more mature adults. No one mentions this on the news. You have to live through this to know what the air quality is like during a MAJOR Fire.

      As far as an English Speaking Language--

      Don't bet on it. The majority of Spanish Speaking Immigrants from Mexico are not bothering to learn English well enough to even carry on a 2 word conversation. They are allowing so many International Students to study at the colleges there that you would think that you were stepping onto an International College based in Asia. The driving is NOT regulated. They are giving these International Students Driving Permits even though they do NOT know any of the rules or laws that pertain to the USA driving rules and regulations. How do I know this? I just had 2 minor accidents with "International Students" who both could have avoided these, if they had just taken a driver's ed course in the USA, rather than their home base.

      Don't move to CA unless you want to pay 10 times more for real estate and rentals than the going rate in most other states. It is ridiculous what they can get away with in that state... even though they are now under a huge Tsunami and Earthquake Alert (that the media is not even mentioning, but will effect the entire West Coast up to Alaska).

      I know for a fact that both San Diego and Las Vegas are receiving huge Chemtrail Attacks Daily. This has happened for years, but they really stepped up their program the past 6 months. It has been totally OFF THE CHART!!! They are "on a mission" to cull back the population after finding out that their Census Bureau information had gained exponentially.

      I would rule out ALL of Southern CA -- and the West Coast-- as well as Las Vegas.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      We agree on this Northwest part of North America being a little chunk of paradise (but not as far Northwest as Alaska)... thanks for your thoughtful comments, Clara Mae!

    • profile image

      Clara Mae 7 years ago

      Just looking at your beach scenes was calming. They say that living in places like Ecuador and Colombia is very economical.

      Personally, I prefer North America, either in the northwest of the U.S. or in British Columbia or Alberta, Canada. The southern countries have insects, spiders, snakes and the like that I don't like to deal with.

      My husband, on the other hand always thinks of Alaska as paradise, but I see it (the Southeast) as dark and rainy and far away from everything.

      Again personally, I'm looking for a better land where we'll never die, the climate is ideal, and the food is clean and life giving. I see this old world as old and tired, ready to quit.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Mary, thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments! I really appreciate your sharing your experiences of seeking out your own retirement paradise and the other valuable suggestions you made here!

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      mary dicerni 7 years ago

      This is a really essential consideration, if you intend to possibly move to a new and strange environment. Taxes, weather, medical, grocery delivery, parking, restaurants, good help with housekeeping and gardening, transportation, religious rules, and today, you may want to enquire about bed bugs. I was considering PEI, Northern Ontario, Florida, and California. My friend invited me to Vancouver island, and we found me a home, so I made the decision to stay.It is still a small paradise for me..

      I found this an interesting way to encourage us to consider other options, Croatia is said to have nice beaches, and Italian country foods and people are wonderful.The condos in Greece were popular a few years ago. My friend moved to Malasia and loves it. I would like to try Japan, There is so much to think about, but I feel you have given us a good idea on how to start planning. Let us know if you ever decide on another paradise of your own, Thank you, Mary

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      thanks Ed-- happy to provide you with dreams and options... ;)

    • profile image

      ed 7 years ago

      Nothing on earth is free but "heaven" they (i.e. God) says it is. We all hope our retirement years are pleasant and a taste of heaven on earth is very appealing. Thanks for providing some dreams and options.