Now that many of us are working from home, many U.S. citizens are talking about moving to another country ahead of retiring there. With this in mind, a new report from Internationalliving.com points to the top 5 retirement destinations across the globe where it’s easiest to fit in as an expat.
The Fitting-in category of IL’s 2022 Annual Global Retirement Index considers the character of the expat community, how easy it is for a single or LGBT person to adapt, how welcoming the locals are, if English is commonly spoken, and other factors.
Even for those who have done their due diligence —researching healthcare, real estate, weather, cost of living—there’s still a wildcard: fitting in. Although this is often an afterthought in planning, it can make or break your expat experience.
The “Fitting in and Entertainment” category isn’t just about making friends with locals and expats—it’s also about feeling at home. Can you pick up your favorite North American comforts? How easy is it to adapt to the local culture? Are there museums, events, and exhibitions? Outdoor activities? Movies in English?
“The most successful expat retirees—the ones who report they’re thoroughly enjoying life abroad—are very often those living in a place where there’s a community of fellow expats—even if that community is small,” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor, International Living.
“That provides a level of comfort knowing you’ve got somebody who’s been there and done that and can help you solve problems and answer questions and provide easy friendship.
“The easiest communities to fit into also offer plenty to do, they’re places where you can make local friends with relative ease, where communicating across languages and cultures isn’t so difficult that you feel alienated,” says Stevens. “Landing in a spot where the locals are friendly and you can get by in English initially, at least, can help ease your transition into expat life.”
In the 2022 list of the 5 easiest places in the world to retire overseas, expats can settle in and enjoy a fulfilling, good-value life abroad quite soon.
Scoring 87 points out of 100, Portugal takes fifth place in the Fitting-in and Entertainment category.
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.
Historic towns, picturesque landscapes, medieval villages, and pristine beaches dotted with craggy rock formations decorate the landscape. Add to that an abundance of Old World charm, complete with plenty of North American comforts.
With miles of coastline, beach lovers can enjoy surfing, body boarding, windsurfing, fishing, swimming, and sunbathing.
“The people are always willing to lend a hand or offer fresh vegetables and fruits from their garden,” says Terry Coles, IL Portugal Correspondent. “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 local schools, from beginner to fluent.
With 89 points, Panama—the overall winner of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2022—takes fourth place.
Panama is home to communities from the U.S. and Canada, as well as myriad other countries. And that’s been the case for more than 100 years.
Balmy weather, city culture, islands, nature preserves, low cost of living, and easy proximity to North America — it offers much that expats seek.
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 chose to stay here. And in the years that followed, Panama’s fame as a retirement destination grew.
“Just an hour’s drive from Panama City, Coronado was developed privately,” says Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama Editor. “I waved, as is the custom, and everyone cheerfully waved back. Were they expats or locals? Who knows.”
Malta, well known for its warm and sunny climate, peaceful lifestyle, and rich cultural offerings—a coveted Mediterranean destination for centuries– takes the third spot with 90 points.
Entertainment abounds, and fitting in here is easy— an English-speaking island/country where expats comprise 20% of the population of 500,000.
“I was friends with a Norwegian, a Dane, an American, and several Swedes,” says Jeff Opdyke, editor of IL’s Global Intelligence Letter. “In terms of restaurants, there are more than I cared to count—everything from Italian to seafood, Swedish home cooking to a proper English pub to excellent sushi.”
Museums are dedicated to art, war, archaeology, the Knights of Malta, postal issues (actually, really interesting), even the sieges that defined this island’s long history.
“You will quickly slip into the Maltese vibe,” says Opdyke. And given that their country has been overrun by numerous conquering nations over the centuries, the Maltese are pretty much welcoming to everyone these days.
#2 Costa Rica
Costa Rica—in second place with 92 points—is one of the most popular retirement havens in Central America. Expats have been flocking here for more than 30 years.
According to the U.S. State Department, there are over 70,000 U.S. citizens residing in Costa Rica. 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,” says Kathleen Evans, IL Costa Rica contributor. “You will quickly learn more about the local food and traditions. 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.”
Every sizable town and city hosts a weekly feria or farmers’ market. “This is always a great opportunity to stock up, but also to socialize with your local community. It is as much a social event as a shopping trip,” says Evans.
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. There are said to be 1 million+ full-time and part-time American expats in Mexico, along with about a half-million Canadians.
“For many Americans and Canadians, Mexico might be the only foreign country they’ve ever visited,” says Jason Holland, IL Roving Latin America Editor. “It’s cheap and easy to get to, and makes for a fun and affordable vacation.”
The Mexican people are well used to foreigners and know their habits and customs. 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. 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,” says Holland. “All that makes it easy for newcomers to get comfortable in their new home.”
“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. Most expats have more friends and social activities than ever.”