International Retirement Hot Spots and Emerging Markets

CIPS designees receive a printed, mailed version of the Global Perspectives newsletter as a member benefit. Past issues are made public on within 2 months of publication. This blog post is based on the December 2013 issue covering Overseas Retirement.


Retirees settling abroad are predicted to be one of the fastest growing segments in the overseas property market. Some factors that are driving this growth include:

  • Retirees looking for ideal climate/location for their preferred lifestyle
  • Growing number of workers who can’t afford to retire where they currently live
  • Countries are working to attract retirees with specific visa programs
  • International developers building resorts/gated communities designed with retirees in mind

So where are they moving?

Tried and True Destinations

Mexico is the most popular foreign retirement destination for Americans and Canadians. It also draws affluent retirees from other countries in Central America. Expatriate English-speaking communities arose in the 1940s in San Miguel de Allende and the Lake Chapala region as inexpensive havens for writers and artists. Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Los Cabos have been developed into premier resort and second-home areas.

The Caribbean has drawn affluent retirees from the U.S., Canada and Europe for many years because of its ideal island-paradise style of life. Favorite retirement spots include the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Martinique and Aruba.

Costa Rica decided to start courting international retirees in the 1970s, establishing a pensionada visa program with easy-to-meet requirements, tax breaks and generous discounts on travel, dining and entertainment. Costa Rica is a nation with multiple microclimates, so retirees could find tropical areas for beach life and cool mountain rain forests for moderate year-round temperatures.

In the United States, Florida and Arizona have long attracted Canadians, Brits and other Europeans, though most only stay in the U.S. for half the year due to visa restrictions. The collapse in property values in these markets has generally made homes more affordable to foreigners.

Mediterranean countries have long been the stopping point for Europeans, particularly citizens of northern climates, as well as affluent citizens from around the world. Southern France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus offer warm temperate climates with upscale beach resorts. That said, the economic crisis in the European Union has cooled demand, with set-backs particularly noticeable in Greece, due to its economic fragility, and in France, where high taxes have been imposed upon the wealthy.

Top 10 Countries Where Americans Receive US Social Security BenefitsEmerging Retirement Hot Spots

By contrast, below is a list of countries that are catering to this demographic in their own way but might not be top of mind when considering retirement destinations.

Panama – their pensionada visa program has a relatively low pension income requirement, property there is inexpensive, English is widely spoken and retirees get a 25 to 50 percent discount on many expenses. Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, so there is no exchange rate risk for Americans. The village of Boquete is popular for its slow lifestyle, mountain climate and inexpensive living. Several amenity-rich planned communities are under construction in areas outside of Panama City.

Nicaragua – their senior visa program has one of the lowest pension requirements in the world ($600 per month resident, $750 per month renter) plus significant tax breaks on bringing possessions and cars into the country. Several major seaside communities are in development featuring Western amenities and local health care.

Ecuador is touted as the most affordable spot for retirement in the Western Hemisphere. Cuenca is an inland colonial-era city of about 330,000 that is also a Unesco World Heritage site. Retirees have access to museums, the opera, ballet and other cultural activities. There are four excellent hospitals, and pensioners qualify for Ecuador’s national Social Security health care system with very low monthly premiums. Seniors also receive large discounts on transportation and refunds on sales taxes. Its climate is moderate year-round.

Turkey has a rich culture, beautiful beaches and stunning landscape. Though Russians lead the pack of foreign buyers, in recent years many British pensioners have found a home there due to the low cost of living. Brits and Americans claim that it costs about one-third of what it does to live in their home countries. Foreign pensions are not taxed.

Morocco has become a popular retirement destination for Europeans. It’s close to Europe and housing prices have remained steady and affordable. The cost of living is low, and Morocco’s income tax of 10 percent is considerably lower than most European countries. Foreign retirees are primarily English and French, with a very small American expat community. Most major cities in Europe are just a short flight away.

Malaysia makes it much easier to obtain residency than most other Asian countries. Malaysian property prices are high in Kuala Lumpur but reasonable in other areas. Excellent health care is available in major cities, and the price is so low that there is an active medical tourism industry. Other advantages include a low cost of living for a comfortable lifestyle, a world-class airport and excellent physical and technological infrastructure.

Thailand has become a very popular retirement destination for Americans, Canadians and Europeans because of its low cost of living, excellent inexpensive health care, rich cultural scene and availability of reasonably-priced caregivers for the elderly. Foreigners cannot buy land in Thailand but can purchase condos or rent apartments. Property values and rents are very low and the cost of living is approximately 70 percent less than in the United States. English is widely spoken in most major cities.

With more people concerned about their ability to retire comfortably at home and a rapidly aging world population, the overseas retirement market could skyrocket over the next 30 years. Destinations that offer an affordable lifestyle, desirable climate, modern amenities and good health care will be strong magnets for migrating seniors.

For more information on each destination or to view the full issue, visit the Global Perspectives archive.

Cynthia Fauth

Cindy Fauth (RCE, AHWD, CIPS, ePRO,) is Director of Global Marketing & Business Development for the National Association of REALTORS® Commercial & Global Services team. She joined NAR in September 2009, helping real estate agents and associations "go global" by promoting the programs and tools of NAR Commercial & Global Services.

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  1. We chose San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, six years ago for its combination of climate, culture and the basic warmth of its people. I became interested in the process of becoming an expat and wrote a book based on conversations with 32 Americans and Canadians who had also made the move. It’s mainly a way of getting inside their heads. It’s called San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. Here’s a link to an excerpt on my website:


    Great information!!! I am an International REALTOR member for some years now. I have attended the TRC?s and the CIPS courses during annual EXPO Events…Orlando, San-Francisco, CA.. An acitive Founder member of Panama Association of Realtors..ACOBIR, also FIABCI and local important Associaton such as American Chamaber of Commerce, Panama Chamber of Commerce and the Panamenian Association of Executives.

    Unfortunately I do not see ´PANAMA, Rep. of PANAMA as one of your International Retirement Hot Spots and solid Emerging Real Estate Market. May I be your point of contact for proper information in ref. PANAMA, a Full Democratic Country, with a Dollar Base Economy, No problems with physical security, very receptive to offer USA citizens a Friendly Welcome and having been our Natural Partners because the Canal of Panama…and much more.
    Do not hesitate if I could be of assistance. May I referred a leader with strong bonds of friendship and business relations with … Mr. Jeff Hornberger..NAR important International expert.!!!!!!

    Sincerely Yours,

    Felix Carles
    Tel…office…(507) 226-1120….Cel ( 507) 66 77 35 66

  3. Jose Schiavo

    Dear Cynthia Fauth

    Good afternoon

    International Retirement is a theme that can interest a lot for myself. So a take the liberty to write to you.
    I am a NAR associated in Brasil (particularly in São Paulo City) and have worked here with commercial and residential real estate for the last seven years.
    Before that I have worked for a hotel group which explored Holiday Inns in Brasil and have a good background in English and know a little about the American style of living.
    I use to travel to USA at least once a year and I would like to live in Florida, more specifically in Orlando area from 2015 on.
    I have the necessary time of contribution for the government pension fund that allow me to retire within one year more or less.
    So I would like to get some basic information from you or from someone you can indicate to me to ask for, in order to obtain the necessary steps and the necessary qualifications that US government created for retirees which want to live in States. The most important I believe is the minimum pension value that US government considers to accept a citizen from Brazil to live there.
    I have a home in Brazil and some other real estate which I would like to sold in order to allow me to buy a home in Orlando, buy cars for me and my spouse and to keep some savings to keep myself, beyond the pension I would receive itself.
    Please help me to get such information if you can and if you eventually may not please indicate some professional which could do it to me.

    Thank you so much and best regards.

    Jose Francisco Schiavo
    e-mail address :
    Tel 55 11 99226-6770