Ed Perkins on Travel
5:30 AM EST, December 24, 2013
"Retire in Pago Pago where you can buy a beachfront villa for less than $100,000 and live on Social Security income." You've undoubtedly seen such a pitch somewhere. And whether you're already approaching retirement age or just starting to plan for retirement, you may well be at least considering retiring overseas.
A new website, Xpatulator.com, publishes detailed cost-of-living figures for just about any place you'd consider retiring -- along with lots of places you would want to avoid. Although Xpatulator's main focus is a for-pay service ($75) that calculates personalized reports, it posts lots of free cost-of-living rankings based on standard consumption "baskets" of goods and services:
-- The cheapest city, says Xpatulator, is Thimphu, Bhutan, not the first retirement center that comes to mind.
-- Cities making the "50 Cheapest" list where you might actually think about retiring are Sofia (number 4), Managua (5), Bucharest (8) and Hyderabad (10).
-- Lowest-cost cities in Latin America -- long a favorite area for expat retirees -- in addition to Managua are La Paz (25), Quito (39), and Tegucigalpa (50).
-- No European city made the cheapest 50 list, but it has lots of entries on the "most expensive" list, including Zurich (1), Geneva (4), Monaco (5), Oslo (10) and London (12).
-- Among the really cheap cities where you probably wouldn't want to retire, no matter how low the costs, are Damascus, Islamabad, Algiers, Kabul and Cairo.
-- For comparison, the cheapest cities in the U.S. are Harlingen, Texas (number 24), Ft. Smith, Ark., (26) and Nashville-Franklin, Tenn. (28).
In addition to raw rankings, the website posts a detailed report for each of almost 1,000 worldwide cities showing thumbnails on the city's economy, language(s), predominant religions, population, currency and annual inflation rate, plus narrative rundowns on costs for alcohol and tobacco, clothing, communication, education, furniture and appliances, grocery, health care, household accommodations, personal care, recreation and culture, restaurants and hotels, transport; plus notes on relative hardship. Whether or not you decide to use the for-pay calculator, anyone considering overseas living, for retirement or seasonal living, should give Xpatulator a look.
For years, International Living (internationalliving.com) has been the go-to source of guidance on overseas living and especially overseas retirement. Its current favorites are Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama, but it's also high on Malaysia and Thailand and even covers a few places in Europe. It doesn't do numerical ratings, but it does present lots of useful information on living costs, property costs and the details about buying property and establishing residence. Basic membership, including a monthly magazine, is nominally $69 a year, but the current promotional rate is $49.
You get a lot of useful information for your basic subscription, but International Living puts a great deal of effort into selling you extra reports. Especially annoying are links to video blurbs promising lots of great info, but before you get to the good stuff -- which usually costs extra -- the video goes on and on about "what I'm going to tell you" with such mind-numbing near-repetition that I've never been able to watch one through to the ending.
Of course, you can get lots of information without paying anything. Start with the State Department's detailed "Country Specific Information" postings (travel.state.gov) for what seems to be the entire U.N. membership of nations. Although the primary focus of these pages is on travelers, the information is vital to anyone considering permanent residence, too.
Obviously, overseas retirement isn't for everyone. English is the local language in only a few of the most favored places, although these days English gets you by almost everywhere. The bigger problem is health care: As you know, Medicare doesn't cover you anywhere outside the U.S. Even though health care in most of the world is a lot less expensive than in the U.S. -- and in many places, it's quite good -- you still may want to stick with your regular medical infrastructure. But if you like the idea of cheap living in a beachfront villa, by all means take a closer look.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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