Admit it: You often dream of quitting your job, ditching it all and moving to paradise. Guess what? That dream could be a reality. In 2018 and 2017, I looked at the best places in the world where the cost of living is so affordable that you can quit your job, retire early and stop working. These are places that are considerably cheaper than in the U.S. — and where life is a whole lot easier. For 2019, I tapped into International Living, which releases an Annual Global Retirement Index, a list of the top places to retire around the globe. And this list isn’t just for retirees: It’s also for people who want to live somewhere so cheap that they don’t have to work. “This index is designed to be a cheat-sheet of sorts, to help point people toward the spots that might make the most sense for them overseas,” says International Living’s executive editor Jennifer Stevens.
Panama topped the International Living Index this year. “Panama can make good sense,” says Stevens. “The sun shines, it’s warm and it’s below the hurricane belt. It’s an easy place to go, as the currency is the U.S. dollar, the medical care is both low-cost and high-quality with lots of English-speaking doctors. The infrastructure is first rate — internet access is good, plus it’s easy to fly in and out and you can get pretty much anywhere in the world. And with its business-friendly, stable government, it’s an all-around smart choice.”
Another advantage: Panama is actively wooing foreigners with tax breaks and other incentives. “You won’t pay income tax on funds earned outside Panama,” says Stevens. “And there are several good options when it comes to getting a visa — all of which are pretty easy to comply with. That includes, for instance, the Friendly Nations visa and the Pensionado — both of which provide residence without too many hoops to jump through. What’s more, real estate taxes are really low and some properties come with a tax exemption of five to 20 years.”
2. Costa Rica
It’s no wonder this country with the national motto “Pura Vida” (pure life) came in second place. “Costa Rica is a place where life is lived outdoors,” says Stevens. “You can fish, golf, ride horses, surf, hike, dive and practice yoga. It’s warm and sunny, the markets are overflowing with fresh-grown fruits and vegetables. It’s an easy, steady choice — a safe, long-standing democracy that’s been welcoming expats for generations. And it’s a place where your dollars stretch.” There is also a thriving expat community, and thanks to the healthy living, many people report that they lose weight here without trying.
“People often associate Mexico with a beach vacation — not incorrectly. But there’s so much more to this country,” says Stevens. “It’s culturally rich and it’s gorgeous. Beyond those postcard-worthy beaches are colonial cities full of colorful homes, art, music and theater.” It’s no wonder so many Americans are already living in Mexico. “It’s not hard to fit in,” says Stevens. “And good living comes cheap.”
According to International Living, Ecuador has an old-world charm that feels like something out of the 1950s. Add to that, clean living, friendly residents, great service and modern cities (Quito, Cuenca), and you’ve got the fourth best place on the list. Another perk: “You cannot beat the climate in Ecuador,” says Stevens, who also points out that the sheer variety of what’s available makes it appealing. “There’s a spot for everybody,” says Stevens. “Whether you crave a hot beach or a cool highland retreat, Ecuador has you covered. And it’s great-value living.”
“Southeast Asia is full of surprises for Americans — and Malaysia is among the best of them,” says Stevens. “Because it was a British colony, English is the unofficial first language, which makes it much easier to get settled and get around than many folks think.” Another plus: home rentals cost a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S.; public transportation is cheap, easy and efficient. It’s also a great base for exploring the rest of Asia: Thailand, Bali, Cambodia and Vietnam are close by.