The World's 21 Best Cities for Retirement

402362 09: The 88-story Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world, soar March 12, 2002 in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The gleaming architectural towers, inspired by the Five Pillars of Islam, are the centerpiece of the ultra-modern Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC). In an age of ethnic strife, poverty, and civil war, Malaysians have managed to forge a peaceful and prosperous multiethnic society. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The world's top retirement haven? There's no such thing, of course. There is no single, one-size-fits-all best place in the world to retire.

There are, however, 21 great choices for retirees. These are places where all the things of importance to retirees, including the weather, health care, the cost of living, the options for establishing residency and the quality of life qualifies as the best the world has to offer.

These 21 destinations are featured in the "Retire Overseas Index" I have worked to compile with the editors and correspondents of Live and Invest Overseas group. (Full disclosure: I am the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.)

For this first annual Retire Overseas Index, we recognize the following destinations as your best options to think about launching a new, exciting, exotic and affordable life overseas:

Abruzzo, Italy

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Boquete, Panama

Cayo, Belize

Cebu, Philippines

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Copper Coast, Ireland

Costa de Oro, Uruguay

Cuenca, Ecuador

Georgetown, Malaysia

Granada, Nicaragua

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hua Hin, Thailand

Istria, Croatia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Languedoc, France

La Serena, Chile

Medellin, Colombia

Mendoza, Argentina

Panama City Beaches, Panama

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Note that these destinations are not countries, but particular cities or regions. You aren't going to retire to Panama or Belize, just as you aren't going to retire to the United States. You might, though, consider retiring to Naples, Fla., or Scottsdale, Ariz.

You might. But I'd suggest you consider the 21 destinations we highlight in this month's index first. I would say that, collectively, these are the world's most affordable, welcoming, friendly and safe retirement choices.

However, some of these places are more affordable than others. The available health care is better is some spots. In some areas, real estate is a screaming bargain, while, in others, you might pay as much to rent a home as you would back home, depending on where you're coming from. Some cities offer turn-key residency options, while others make you work harder if you want to remain in the country permanently. In some locales the folks speak English, either as a rule or often enough to make it possible for you to get by without having to learn the local lingo. In others, you're going to have to make the effort to speak a new language.

Some of these places are home to established and growing communities of foreign retirees, meaning you'll have lots of English-speaking company. In others, your neighbors would be local, meaning you'd have to speak their language and respect and embrace their way of life.

Collectively, these 21 spots represent the best places to live, including the city, beaches and mountains, and span the globe. Further, each of these 21 places is special in some way. Indeed, some are remarkable in several ways.

Specifically, some of these cities are among the cheapest places in the world to live well, including Cuenca, Ecuador; Granada, Nicaragua; Hoi An, Vietnam; and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Some retirement spots offer lifestyles that qualify as quintessentially Old World. They are rich with culture, history and romance, at prices that even retirees working with modest budgets can afford to embrace. Here I'm thinking of Languedoc, France; Abruzzo, Italy; and Istria, Croatia. Some locales promise escape, either practical (Cayo, Belize) or romantic (Copper Coast, Ireland).

In some of the places we feature in our index you can embrace the best of beachfront living on a budget, such as Costa de Oro, Uruguay; Hua Hin, Thailand; Cebu, Philippines; and Hoi An, Vietnam. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is the best place to embrace what I'd describe as a luxury beach lifestyle on a non-luxury budget. Puerto Vallarta; Ambergris Caye, Belize; and the Panama City beaches are the best places to retire to the beach in the company of fellow expat retirees. All of these places are home to established and growing foreign retiree communities.

We feature in this survey our picks for the best places in the world to enjoy the best of city living on a budget, including Medellin, Colombia; Georgetown, Malaysia; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The best places to retire among the vines are the Languedoc, France; and Mendoza, Argentina. The best highlands options are Boquete, Panama; and Cuenca, Ecuador. And our favorite place to kick it in the Caribbean is Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Here are further highlights from the survey's findings:

World's All-Around Top Cities for Retirement:

--Cuenca, Ecuador

--Georgetown, Malaysia

--Medellin, Colombia

--Panama City Beaches, Panama

World's Most Affordable Cities To Retire Well (places where you could retire comfortably on a budget of $1,250 per month or even less):

--Cebu, Philippines

--Chiang Mai, Thailand

--Cuenca, Ecuador

--Granada, Nicaragua

--Hoi An, Vietnam

--Medellin, Colombia (outside El Poblado)

World's Best Climate:

--Cuenca, Ecuador

--Medellin, Colombia

World's Most Expat-Friendly Cities To Retire:

--Ambergris Caye, Belize

--Boquete, Panama

--Cuenca, Ecuador

--Georgetown, Malaysia

--Hua Hin, Thailand

--Panama City Beaches

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.

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