Some countries where it’s easy to retire
While a huge part of the adventure and challenge of moving abroad involves becoming immersed in a new culture, exploring the unknown and navigating a new language, having access to home comforts and people who speak English can help transform an overseas destination into a forever home.
Things like the friendliness of the locals, the size of the expat community, activities on offer, and how easy it is to make friends all work to create a safe, welcoming environment.
For International Living’s 2022 Retirement Index, we’ve looked at the countries where it is easiest to fit in — locations where you can have your adventure and be a part of a community at the same time.
The winners of this year’s “Fitting in and Entertainment” category are:
Portugal’s low cost of living, high quality of life, reliable infrastructure, varied climate, world-class healthcare, and high degree of safety are attracting foreigners to this tiny country in increasing numbers.
In addition to historic towns, picturesque landscapes, medieval villages and pristine beaches, Portugal has an abundance of Old World charm, complete with plenty of North American comforts.
“Fitting in here has been far easier than many other countries we have lived in or visited,” said Terry Coles, IL Portugal correspondent.
“The people are warm and wonderful, always willing to lend a hand or offer fresh vegetables and fruits from their garden. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Portuguese or they don’t speak English because communication happens using smiles, hand gestures, hugs and kisses.”
As an example of how welcoming Portugal is to foreigners, the government offers free language lessons at all levels, from beginner to fluent, held at local schools.
Panama is incredibly international, home to communities from the U.S. and Canada, as well as many other countries. And that’s been the case for more than 100 years.
The U.S. had a large military presence in Panama from the early 1900s until 1999, when the last military bases — and the Panama Canal — reverted to Panamanian administration. Rather than return to the States, many Americans chose to stay here. In the years that followed, Panama’s fame as a retirement destination grew.
Panama City resident Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama editor, recently moved to Coronado, about two hours away.
“I waved [to passersby], as is the custom in Coronado, and everyone cheerfully waved back. Were they expats or locals? Who knows? No matter. The one thing I do know is that I’m going to fit in just fine.”
Malta, well known for a warm and sunny climate, peaceful lifestyle, and rich cultural offerings, takes the third spot. For a country about the size of Memphis, there’s quite the smorgasbord of things to do and restaurants to try.
And for a city this size, it hosts a surprising number of museums dedicated to art, war, archaeology, the Knights of Malta, postal issues (actually really interesting), even the sieges that defined this island’s long history.
Fitting in here — an English-speaking country where expats comprise 20% of the population of 500,000 — is easy.
“No matter where you happen to be in the country, one thing is certain: You’re going to fit in,” said Jeff Opdyke, editor of IL’s Global Intelligence Letter.
“And in short order you will quickly slip into the Maltese vibe. Just show up, maybe learn how to say ‘welcome’ in Maltese (merhba), and you’re well on your way to settling into a Maltese life,” he said.
#2 Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the most popular retirement havens in Central America and consistently ranks highly in terms of ease of fitting in.
North American and European expats have been flocking here for more than 30 years. According to the U.S. State Department, there are more than 70,000 U.S. citizens residing in Costa Rica.
But it’s not just other expats who will be great resources. Costa Ricans, or ticos, are known for their warm and welcoming personalities: part of the pura vida culture.
“Having Costa Rican friends greatly enhances your expat experience,” said Kathleen Evans, IL Costa Rica contributor.
“Don’t be surprised when your new neighbors invite you to their child’s birthday party or when they surround your car when it breaks down in order to help you fix it. They are simply lovely people that way.”
In addition, if you shop at local stores and markets, vendors and owners will make time to chat with you. Every sizable town hosts a weekly feria, or farmers market.
“It is as much a social event as a shopping trip,” Evans said.
It’s no surprise that Mexico is a perennial winner in the “Fitting in and Entertainment” category, scoring an impressive 94 points this year.
Every year, millions of Americans and Canadians travel to Mexico’s buzzing metropolises, fun beach resorts, picturesque natural areas, and charming colonial cities, among other destinations. And within a country three times the size of Texas, there are a lot to choose from.
Mexico, said Jason Holland, IL roving Latin America editor, is “cheap and easy to get to…and makes for a fun and affordable vacation.”
The Mexican people are used to foreigners. They know U.S. culture. Many vacation and expat destinations are “set up” for foreign residents and expats. In general, Mexicans are also very warm, friendly and welcoming people.
“Many Mexicans speak English; signs and menus are in English; many restaurants cater to the American palate (although you’re never far from delicious authentic Mexican food, of course),” Holland said.
“There are rental and real estate agencies catering to expats as well as relocation services that will help you set up a bank account, find a specialist doctor (who will most likely speak English too), secure residence, and buy a car,” Holland said.
“All that makes it easy for newcomers to get comfortable in their new home.”
More than a million full-time and part-time American expats live in Mexico, along with about a half-million Canadians.
“You’re sure to find some folks you gel with. There is no shortage of activities to take part in: book clubs, card games, sports like tennis, golf and pickleball, hiking, mountain biking, volunteer work,” he said.
“Most expats find they’re busier than ever — and have more friends and social activities than ever — when they move to Mexico.”
More information on the easiest categories to fit in from the International Living 2022 Global Retirement Index can be found at bit.ly/5easycountries.
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