Top 5 Foreign Countries for U.S. Retirees

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Stepping out of the workforce and into retired life takes some adjustment. Changing countries when you retire makes that adjustment a tad more involved. If you’re considering the idea of retiring in another country, you’re in good company: Travel Market Report estimates 3.3 million baby boomers plan to spend retirement outside of the U.S. Choosing which country to adopt depends on your priorities, sense of adventure and need to stretch your nest egg. Factors such as the cost of living, climate and affordable health care can trump a language barrier, while web phone technology puts family visits a few clicks away, lessening the distance factor.

5 Australia

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Aussie hospitality and the English language give Australia points as a haven for U.S. retirees. If you decide to make it your retirement home, be prepared for long flights to the U.S. Life Down Under may not cost less than in New York, but its largest cities—Sydney, Auckland, Perth and Melbourne—rank among the top 21 in the world on the Mercer 2012 Quality of Living survey, ahead of the highest ranking U.S. city, Honolulu. However, a retirement visa requires substantial net worth and annual income.

4 Malaysia

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Malaysia offers quality health care at a lower cost than retirees would pay stateside. According to International Living.com, the capital, Kuala Lumpur, has become a medical tourist destination. Language poses no problem as English is widely used. Rental prices are a retiree’s budget dream, at more than 80 percent lower than New York, according to Numbeo.com’s 2013 rent price index. Some may consider the tropical climate and lack of nonstop flights to the U.S. to be drawbacks. Others may welcome the country’s “Malaysia My Second Home” incentive program to import their car duty-free, buy a home and obtain residency.

3 Portugal

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Portugal may be Europe’s best-kept secret for U.S. retirees. Language may be the only glitch, although the residents in resort towns and the capital city, Lisbon, speak English. This quaint nation can be a European base for traveling retirees who take advantage of its high-speed rail network. Numbeo.com’s cost comparisons show life in Portugal to cost less than half of what New Yorkers pay. For those attracted to locations with a slower pace, nice weather and political stability, Portugal merits consideration.

2 Ecuador

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Ecuador tops “International Living”’s 2013 Retirement Index but places second here because not knowing Spanish can tarnish your experience. You can choose your weather: tropical on the coast and mild in the higher elevations, with a happy medium in the capital city, Quito. International Living gave Ecuador “best value” in the world for real estate. When you move, you can import your household items duty-free. When you’re sick, Ecuador’s hospitals and doctors have solid reputations with lower out-of-pocket expenses than in the U.S. An Ecuadorian retirement can be had for $1,500 per month.

1 Panama

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Panama may be your retirement ticket if “easy” appears on your priority list: The language is English and the currency is the U.S. dollar. A climate that’s cooler and less humid than Florida with no hurricanes and top-notch medical care adds to Panama’s attraction. Retirees with at least $1,000 in monthly income qualify for Panamanian “pensionado” discounts on everything. Your U.S. passport helps cut through red tape for a permanent residency visa that can also get you a work permit, should you want to augment your Social Security check. You may not need to, however; according to Kiplinger, a monthly income of $1,200 to $1,300 lets a retired couple live fairly well.

Trudy Brunot began writing in 1992. Her work has appeared in "Quarterly," "Pennsylvania Health & You," "Constructor" and the "Tribune-Review" newspaper. Her domestic and international experience includes human resources, advertising, marketing, product and retail management positions. She holds a master's degree in international business administration from the University of South Carolina.

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