In the best-value countries outside the United States, American retirees are finding that they can live better than they could at home — for less. In fact, many report, they can enjoy a genuinely comfortable, low-stress retirement on their Social Security alone.
That’s relatively hard to do in the United States, where the average Social Security benefit is $1,374 for a retired worker — or $2,090 for a couple.
“If you’re looking at retiring on your Social Security check alone in the United States or have just a modest amount to supplement it, you’re likely to find yourself living frugally,” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor of International Living.
“But take that modest budget overseas to a place where your dollars stretch, and you’ll find you can be free from money woes.
“Boomers living on modest budgets overseas may not be living like royalty, but they’re dining out when they feel like it, they’re benefitting from good-quality healthcare they can afford, they’re no longer living hand-to-mouth. And with less stress and better weather, they report a much higher quality of life than they’d have in the United States on the same budget.”
Five low-cost countries International Living’s editors have pinpointed as good-value escapes for retirees include Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Cambodia.
One of Chris and Rex McCaskill’s favorite things to do these days is relax on their rooftop terrace, enjoying views of the stunning surrounding countryside and the comfortable, never-too-hot climate that stays in the 70s most days.
After rewarding but long careers in the U.S., the couple (self-confessed workaholics) were ready to retire. Chris, 66, worked for elected officials in the field of public policy and Rex, 65, was a software developer. Five years ago, they moved from Austin, Texas, to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands.
Affordability was a big motivator, since in Mexico a couple can live comfortably on as little as $1,800 a month.
“In Austin, we were paying $700 a month for heat and air conditioning. We were paying property taxes of $12,000 a year and now live comfortably with taxes of $200 a year,” says Chris.
“Here in San Miguel, economics and lifestyle go hand in hand. We spend money on quality of life things, not air conditioning or taxes. We can take our money from Social Security and our quality of life is pretty darn good.”
“I no longer feel anxious and worried when I review my finances,” says Bartley D’Alfonso, retired in Ecuador. “It is very comforting to know that I can now occupy my mind with what fun activities I will do daily, rather than how I would try to survive day-by-day if I had stayed back in the U.S.
“A few years ago, I found myself as a solo retiree with an expensive California condo mortgage to pay for, along with excessive property taxes and increasing monthly homeowners’ association fees.
“Month by month, it was becoming harder and harder to live only on my fixed Social Security benefits and retirement pension. I was feeling trapped, with high anxiety—how was I ever going to continue to live like this? How could I survive? Something had to change…”
It did, when Bartley moved to the highland university town of Cuenca, Ecuador.
“After a three-day real estate tour, I sold off my Californian condo and bought a newly built condo in Cuenca,” he explained. “My three-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-story condo cost $115,500 and get this — my annual property tax was $88 in 2015… $55 in 2016…and this year I paid $44, compared to $4,800 annual property taxes back home.
“And talk about having the senior citizen discount kick in. Under Ecuadorian law, all citizens who reach 65 years of age and have a cedula (national identification card) get to enjoy substantial reductions with the expenses of daily living.
“I recently turned this magical age, and my bus fares were lowered to 12 cents per ride, instead of the regular 25 cent fare. My annual property tax will be halved down to about $25, and all notary fees are now free, saving hundreds of dollars.
“My water bill is discounted by 50 percent, dropping down to an average monthly fee of $3.85. Every six months I can turn in my receipts and receive a maximum refund of $105 per month for any sales taxes paid, which is deposited directly into my local bank account.”